Cultivating the Best Professional Relationships in Dental Hygiene

careers in dental dental hygiene dental hygienist professional relationships professional relationships in dental hygiene working relationships Apr 04, 2022
hygienists working together

Cultivating the Best Professional Relationships in Dental Hygiene

By Suzanne L. Vila, RDH, PHDHP, B.A.

What is your definition of a professional relationship in your dental hygiene career? Indeed defines a professional relationship as “A professional relationship is an interpersonal connection between two or more people in a place of business.”

Sure, that definition is certainly true. But in the dental hygiene world, we wear many hats when it comes to professional relationships. On any given day, we are forming and strengthening relationships with our co-workers, patients, colleagues, and our employers. Having so many varied professional relationships is certainly a challenge. But the benefits of having positive professional relationships are essential for career fulfillment and success.

Benefits of Positive Relationships

How good those relationships are is a huge factor in how happy we are as hygienists. Since our connections with others affect daily and career satisfaction, isn’t it worth exploring ways to cultivate the best relationships?

Although it might seem like common sense, understanding the nuances of how to approach our professional relationships with different communication strategies isn’t as easy as it sounds. So, let’s dive into our professional relationships and how we can foster positive relationships that make us feel fulfilled, valued, and needed.  

Having the best professional relationships brings out the best in us!  But we can’t treat all of the people in our professional lives the same way and expect good outcomes.  We need to figure out the key way to approach them based on each group's dynamics and needs. Improving our professional relationships by using a keyword approach is an easy way to bring the best out of them. 

Keyword Approach to Relationship Success

Patient Relationships

  Keyword: Empathy

A few years ago, I wrote an article about how empathy fosters better patient relationships.  When patients know that you care, they are more loyal to the practice. They trust you and know that what your office recommends is for their best oral care.  When you are an empathetic communicator, your patients not only trust you but are more likely to accept recommended treatment.

In practice, Empathy comes naturally for some while it is challenging for others. Sometimes when we are so focused on clinical practice (removing stubborn calculus!), we can lose those empathetic listening skills temporarily. Keep in mind that even a short absence of empathy creates the patient's perception that you don’t care and can take a toll on your relationship. So, although we want to remove all deposits, remember that we need to make sure the patients know that the top priority is how they feel in our chair.

Co-Worker Relationships

  Keyword: Synergy

We work within a diverse dental team. Not only do we have different job titles and duties, but we also come from different backgrounds, which influence our perspectives.1  While diversity is a true benefit to the workplace, bringing our work together as a team takes synergy.  

Synergy means that a diverse team finds the best way to work together for optimal results.  In simple terms, it is teamwork at its best! 

Teamwork is a buzzword that is easier said than done in the day-to-day work culture. When we are busy or frustrated when items aren’t stocked or patients are difficult, when we perceive that one person is working less than we are, we are not contributing to team synergy. 

The best way to achieve synergy is through the implementation of a communication plan and the establishment of group norms that help work through the challenges:

  • Creating a Communication Plan means that we actually plan how we interact with each other rather than just winging it. We use clear communication techniques with established channels of communication that are mindful, knowing that we all have unique perspectives.  We trade gossip for respect.  We avoid negativity and look for positive solutions together.


  • Establishing Group Norms means that your company establishes a culture that values mutual respect, inclusive decision making, and organized paths towards conflict resolution.


Employer Relationships

   Keyword: Collaboration

Although the synergy and collaboration are similar, in the dental hygiene world, how well we interact with our dentist employer relies more on a collaborative effort. While a hygienist is an employee, we are also care providers who spend the majority of time with existing patients. When a dental hygienist and dentist collaborate with each other, they don’t just work well together, they create a successful treatment for those patients. 

Establishing a collaborative effort between dentist and hygienist not only brings successful patient outcomes but also mutual respect. The best way to collaborate is through organized communication. 

Organized communication happens with regularly scheduled meetings to discuss patient treatment goals, specific patient cases, and future treatment options. Meetings in which a hygienist and dentist can openly discuss patient treatment goals and even concerns brings them together as collaborative clinicians. 

One important reminder is that in a successful dentist/hygienist relationship, a hygienist always acknowledges that they work under the supervision of the dentist and practices within the guidelines of their licensure. When you respect your dentist, respect is more likely to be given to you as well. 

Fellow Hygienist Relationships

  Keyword: Comradery 

Let’s face it, nobody in your dental office knows how it feels to practice dental hygiene like your fellow hygienists. As hygienists, we are stronger when we are together!

Whether you have a trusted friend in dental hygiene or not, you can still find comradery in hygienist relationships. By establishing practice study clubs, regular hygiene meetings, or even a ‘hygienists night out’, you can share information on new tricks and techniques, discuss patient challenges and solutions, or even just vent or laugh a bit about ‘hygiene life’ outside of the daily grind of the operatory. 

Another great way to establish hygiene comradery is by getting involved in your local dental hygiene association such as the PDHA.  Whether your passion is for education, public health, or even just social gatherings, associations can connect you with like-minded hygienists from all over your state!

The Takeaway

Each relationship we build as hygienists affects our daily lives and doesn’t just develop without some work. Being authentic and thoughtful in cultivating those relationships can help you develop strong bonds with your patients who will trust you, work more efficiently with your co-workers, collaborate with your employer dentist for the best patient outcomes, and build strong friendships with other hygienists.  

The better your professional relationships, the more fulfilled you feel as a professional and as a person.  That is truly worth the work!



About the Author: Suzanne L. Vila, RDH, PHDHP, B.A.




 Suzanne is a Registered Dental Hygienist in Central PA who works in private periodontal practice and at a local college as an adjunct dental hygiene faculty. After a thirty-year career in dental hygiene, Suzanne is now creating non-clinical projects involving professional enhancement, public health initiatives, and patient education. In addition to being a passionate dental practitioner, Suzanne enjoys teaching fitness classes such as Pilates and yoga, volunteering with the local dog rescue Pitties.Love.Peace, and spending time with her family and their two rescued pit bulls, Rudy & Freya.


  1. Asana. “How to Build Team Synergy, Definition and Examples • Asana.” Asana, 
  2. “Professional Relationships: Types and Tips.” Indeed Career Guide,,that%20exist%20outside%20of%20work